When is a garden more than a garden?
When it becomes a garden room.
Creating a garden room is the premise of Soothing Summer Gardens, the current exhibit at Fort Wayne’s Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory. The exhibit features a series of outdoor vignettes crammed with ideas that homeowners can adapt for their own outdoor spaces, says Rebecca Canales, program manager and exhibit designer.
A garden room is a place where you use plants and hardscape, including furniture, to create a sense of enclosure, she says. It’s a self-contained space where certain things can happen or people can enjoy being in the space.
Garden rooms, Canales says, usually mix functionality with natural beauty. Some, she says, are designed to extend activities usually done inside into the open air – reading, conversation, relaxing or eating.
But others have the sole purpose of showing off an art object or specimen plant – or simply a view of a visually interesting surrounding landscape.
To be satisfying, she says, a garden room needs to have one – and perhaps two or three – focal points. One, she says, is to draw you in to the space in the first place. Others focus your attention once you’re there – through color, texture, size or contrast.
Focal points can be as simple as a colorful pot with an impressive plant, a collection of large rocks for seating, colorful or inviting chairs or a table, a fountain or water feature or a piece of sculpture or garden art.
It’s best that visitors not see everything at once, she says. You want them to enter and then discover things.
Canales says most of the plants used in the exhibit would work in summertime northeastern Indiana gardens. However, she says, some are strictly tropical and were used because of the conservatory’s environment under glass.
But some, like the exhibit’s showy hibiscus plants, could be brought inside for the winter and used as houseplants until summer calls again, she adds.
Canales says one secret to a satisfying garden room is using a limited color palette, using massed plantings to draw attention to an area and repeating colors in different plants’ flowers and foliage.
Much of the exhibit uses darkish colors in leaves, including reddish purple and dark green, with flowers in dark blue, purple, red, orange and pink. Coleus leaves repeat the pink.
The repetition makes the room area seem cohesive and set apart from other spaces and invites the eye to linger, Canales says.
Here are some ideas on enclosing spaces from Soothing Summer Gardens at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory:
A rattan screen backdrop. One room, featuring two lemon-colored Adirondack chairs, gets its sense of enclosure from this piece, which could be used with a second or third screen. The chairs flank a large pot with tall red Australian cannas with broad maroon leaves and wing begonias with large leaves and coral flowers. A mulched garden path is lined with a bed of dragonfly begonias and multicolored coleus with colors that mimic the chairs’ hues and delineate the space.
A straw bale garden wall. Canales says she and conservatory staff members put a lot of time into this feature, but she adds that it’s well within the ken of handy home gardeners. It’s made with stacked bales of straw covered with a special mud allowed to harden and was inspired, she says, by what a hobbit house might look like. The wall forms a curved, rustic-looking Tuscany-type backdrop for garden seating in one room. In another, with a rectangular opening as a doorway, it backs focal-point, pedestal-placed specimen plants – examples of bonsai provided by the Fort Wayne Club including ficus at least two decades old, Canales says.
A pergola. Here’s a way to have a ceiling to a garden room without losing all of the sky. In the exhibit, part of the straw bale wall is used to support a pergola made from pressure-treated lumber, but a pergola also can be built over a patio or deck or between two closely-spaced structures. Plants, such as clematis or certain types of roses, can climb the wood, Canales says, while leaving a little of the square-framed ceiling open. Or, as in the exhibit, plants can be hung from the posts or rafters in individual pots.
A green wall. For gardeners blessed – or cursed – by an existing or unsightly building wall, Canales suggests what she describes as a tapestry of plant material known as a green wall. Also known as living walls or bio-walls, these ilding exteriors and to use up carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas implicated in global warming, while producing oxygen. In the conservatory’s extra-big version, plants are planted on the diagonal in a metal grid-like frame (so they don’t fall out) and the frame is attached to the wall. Plantings include Ming asparagus fern, spider plants, chenille plants with their fuzzy pink tassels, wire vine and arrowhead vine -- all arranged in an artistic wave pattern that has variations in depth as well as color. Canales says the walls are well within reach of homeowners because kits can be purchased online.
A water feature. Placing a room so it’s backdropped by a pond or other water feature gives a natural limit to its depth. Seating can face either toward or, away from the water, if there’s something in front of the seats to attract attention – perhaps a birdbath or statuary. A small lawn or mulched or gravel-filled area in front of the seating bordered by flowerbeds can further define the space, as can plants in large pots or larger shrubs placed at the sides of the seating.
A green screen. In the room with the Adirondack chairs, the man-made screen yields to a row of arborvitae, a plant with a tallish, pyramid-like shape makes it an ideal space divider. Other tall shrubs, such as forthysia or butterfly bushes, clumps of tall ornamental grass or tall flowers, such as cannas, can serve a similar purpose.